Sunday, December 23, 2012

Friday, December 21 – Busy, Busy, Busy

As sea days go, this one was full of activity.  We had a relaxed breakfast in the MDR knowing that the afternoon would be taken up in part by packing for tomorrow’s departure.  We had one last chat with some of the dining room staff whom we will not see tonight or tomorrow.


Normally, we think, we should have received a disembarkation package this morning, but none was in the mailbox.  This packet contains instructions for the morning as well as color-coded luggage tags for our baggage and a customs declaration form.  Nada, so we made plans to attend the 10 a.m. meeting in the showroom in case there was something new.


In fact, there was nothing new, but the showroom was filled to capacity and people were standing at the back to hear Carlos tell us what we knew from previous cruises.  We slipped out before the March of the Staff, a custom which allows the passengers to applaud the workers many have treated condescendingly until now.


We returned to the room and shortly thereafter the luggage tags arrived.  We will be able to leave around 9:15, hopefully earlier, to meet Emily’s plane at FLL; she is due in at 10:30, so we should have plenty of time.


D began packing while we waited for Trivia Time and finished the bulk of it by 11:10.   We were surprised by the lateness and hurried to the OB, arriving around 11:15 to find “our” booth vacant.  Usually someone is there by 11 [normally us], so we were glad no one had jumped our claim.  Everyone was present and accounted for again and we worked hard to tie for first with our arch-rivals, the Road Scholars.  We won the playoff and offered them the travel mugs we won.  Two of their players accepted, so we gave them ours so Mark, Mary, Vicky and Barry could cart more home.  We think that made us the winners.  We held Carlos to his promise of drinks if we won the final game and enjoyed our fruity concoctions [except for MA’s vodka].


We had to take our drinks back to the room so we could dress for lunch.  Our reservation in the Pinnacle Grill was for 12:30 and we left the OB at 12:15.  We changed and were upstairs on time.  D put his frozen pina colada in the mini-fridge and MA just left hers on the vanity.


Our lunch was delightful, as much for the experience as the food.  We prefer the lunch menu in the Pinnacle which we often call the “Pineapple Grill.”  We both ordered Five Onion Soup which was several steps up from the MDR onion soup.   MA had lobster-and-crab cakes which had great flavor, she said, even if the seafood was shredded.  D had a bacon cheeseburger and fries.  We did not order dessert when we ordered the rest of the meal even though that is the normal procedure.  Roger, the PG manager, personally took care of us and came to chat and check up on us several times while we ate.  Also while we were eating, Fermin came to the table and apologized for not attending the CC meeting yesterday.  He had wanted to but was in a meeting and could not get away.  We explained that the captain had stopped by and that we were not upset at all.  Gildus also stopped to talk with us during the meal.


Once the dishes were cleared, Roger appeared with a to-die-for chocolate cake for our anniversary.  We had mentioned the date when we made the reservation but had not expected any special attention.  On the other hand, no one sang “Happy Anniversary, Lovely Couple” to us.  The cake was a chocolate mousse cake which even MA, not a chocolate lover, almost finished.  D did not finish, either, but he had been given the larger piece.  We were the last customers to leave the PG after talking with Roger until 2:00.


MA started packing when we returned to the room and was almost finished by 2:30 when we left again.  This time we went back to the OB for a cabaret performance by the ship’s singers.  They had given a similar performance in the Crow’s Nest recently and Carlos thought the bigger venue of the OB would allow more passengers to see it.  We were early but wanted to get good seats with a table because we brought our Trivia drinks with us.  The show was good but a bit over-amplified, a problem in all of the show venues; we may be old but not everyone on board is deaf.


And now today’s excitement:  Each stateroom received a letter today thanking us for our patience during The Recent Troubles.  As a further show of gratitude, HAL was granting us each a Future Cruise Credit equal to 15% of the cost of this voyage [less taxes and port charges, of course].  D wrote immediately to TA Ted to see if there was some way to apply it to the cruise we have already booked [probably not].  To make use of the credit, we have to book a cruise by the end of December 2013 although the actual cruise can be any time in the future.  In this way, HAL does not have to refund any real money and also locks us into another cruise.  We haven’t heard any complaints yet but there are sure to be people who want more.  It’s like the mug yesterday – there’s always one.


It was the last night in the Ocean Bar, of course.  We talked to Ferdie while awaiting dinner and mentioned our anniversary.  Poor Ferdie looked stricken because he had forgotten about it [he had been in the PG when we tried to make the original reservation].  He insisted on sending champagne to the table and there was no way to refuse without insulting him.  Sure enough, a server from the OB appeared after we were seated and poured two splits of German champagne.  It was sweet enough for D but tart enough for MA and we each finished a bottle.


Fermin had come through the OB on his way to a “final dinner with [his] compatriots.”  D thought that some of the crew were leaving in Ft. Lauderdale, but it turned out that Fermin had dinner with Manoot and Peter next door.  During dinner, when they were not conversing in Dutch, there was lots of good-natured kidding between tables. 


Dinner tonight was billed as an international extravaganza.  Each place had a rolled-up menu. When the scroll was opened, it revealed menu choices listed by continents.  Diners were not restricted to ordering from just one continent, so we both started with a Mediterranean mezze platter; MA chose a risotto with cod and D had shrimp provencal.  We were both ecstatic over the mezze; disappointed in our entrees; and really happy with the cheesecake and apple-cinnamon compote for dessert.  We lingered for one last chat with Peter and Manoot and then made our way back to the cabin one final time.


The rest of the packing waited until after dinner.  Once the blog was posted [he said prophetically], the computer and all of the electronics were stowed away, ready for us to carry off in the morning.  The larger bags were placed in the hallway and should disappear during the night and reappear in the terminal tomorrow. 


The party’s over.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Tuesday, December 18 – Eat, Drink and Be Merry


Sea days are positively sinful.  With nowhere to go and nothing special to do, it is easy to accomplish the day’s goals.  We slept in this morning and didn’t get to the MDR for breakfast until after 9:00.  The cabin stewards had not made up the room by the time we returned, so we took our books and some sodas to the OB where we read and worked on the NYT crossword puzzle until the Trivia team started to arrive.  Trivia began at 11:30, so we were in the lounge for quite a while.


Our streak continued today when we took first place with 13/17.  People have stopped clapping when we are announced as the winners despite Carlos’s enthusiasm.  If we were playing a cumulative form of Team Trivia, as is played on other cruises/ships, Carlos said we would have won already.  We now have nine wins in eighteen contests.  Carlos still has not figured out what to give us for prizes but we don’t care.


We had lunch in the MDR today and then read and napped during the afternoon.  We won’t be able to maintain this pace once the cruise is over, but it’s wonderful now. 


We were in the OB early for pre-dinner drinks and had another nice chat with Ferdie.  Jim and Pam from Scotland [and Cruise Critic] came by on their way to dinner and they sat with us for a while.  We have enjoyed their company during the cruise and on several of our private excursions.  They, in turn, have been very complimentary about the shore excursions.  As travelers do, we exchanged stories about cruises and side trips, both good and bad.


Ferdie, who had left to attend to other duties, returned and offered us all drinks.  MA had another vodka and D even consented to a glass of rose; Pam had a small rose but Jim declined.  It was a nice gesture by Ferdie and completely unexpected.  Jim was amazed that we were getting drinks on the house.


We talked with Peter and Manoot throughout dinner.  As we were getting our deserts, Fermin came and sat at their table.  He had worked through supper in his office and came to get a [big] bowl of soup.  By the time he arrived in the MDR, the kitchen had theoretically closed, but he had no trouble getting the soup and bread.  When the head chef came by, as he does most evenings, Fermin joked about having to eat leftovers.  He ordered a bottle of red wine and asked if we would like to share it, but we declined and he asked for three glasses for himself, Manoot and Peter.  We left them to their conversation, mostly in Dutch, and came home.


Tomorrow – Oranjestad, Aruba


Wednesday, December 19 – Last Call!


We are in Oranjestad, Aruba, today.  Aruba is alphabetically the first of the ABC islands, the others being Bonaire and Curacao.  All are part of the Netherlands Antilles, so they all have gabled houses and a strong Dutch background.  When we signed up for this cruise, we had expected to dock in Bonaire today and only discovered the change in the itinerary after boarding.  Fermin said that the change was made to facilitate getting to Ft. Lauderdale on schedule because Aruba is closer than Bonaire.  Fair enough – we wouldn’t wish a late-arrival nightmare like ours on anyone.


While the ship was in dry dock prior to our departure, all of the verandahs were replaced. Additionally, the two propellers which drive the ship were also replaced.  The new screws are more efficient so the Prinsendam can now go faster if need be, but, of course, at an increased cost for the extra fuel burned.  Now that the cruise is almost over, the powers-that-be have decided that it is time to test them.  Captain Gundersen [“It’s me again!”] announced last night that there would be attest at 7:00 this morning and that passengers might feel some vibration as the ship went from full ahead to full reverse.


Precisely at 7:00 o’clock, nothing happened.  By 7:30 it was obvious that nothing was going to happen.  Later in the day, the Captain announced the obvious – the test will take place somewhere in the Caribbean or the Florida Strait before we reach Port Everglades.  However, he did not say when this would occur.  For all we know, he will do it at 3:00 a.m. just to toy with us.


After breakfast in the MDR, we returned to the room and read a bit before venturing off the ship.  We have been to Orajestad several times and had no plans to tour or to stay out long.  The ship was cleared for people to go ashore around 8:15, but we avoided the crowd and disembarked around 10:30.  The Prinsendam was like the little elephant at the end of the line at the circus.  We were the farthest from the port entrance parked behind the HAL Ryndam and the Caribbean Princess.  The Ryndam appears to hold about 1250 passengers because it has 12 lifeboats compared to our 800 passengers and 8 lifeboats.  The Caribbean Princess has 24 lifeboats.  You can do the math. 


We first walked to the shopping area in front of the Princess ship.  There wasn’t much to recommend it, but MA was able to find a little box for the collection.  We backtracked toward our home-away-from-home and continued into town.


Just outside the port area is the main shopping street in Oranjestad.  All of the usual shops are here such as Diamonds International, Colombian Emeralds and Little Switzerland.  There is a Hard Rock CafĂ© practically on top of a Starbucks.  We also saw a complex which took up almost an entire block; Siva had Indian-inspired architecture and was painted neon pink.  Of course, there were other chains as well as local merchants all selling the same jewelry, watches and/or duty-free goods.


We walked past the high-end stores but browsed at the block of stalls with “crafts.”  We have decided that there is one warehouse on each island where the locals all buy their tchotchkes.  They all sell the same stuff for the same price.  There was also another pseudo-market with stalls which we didn’t even look at.


We continued past the stalls until we came to The Paddock.  We have no idea where the name came from since there are no horses or no racing oval and The Paddock is on the water.  We were here with Emily a few years ago and had a lovely lunch right by the breakwater.  Although we did not walk down to it this time, we saw the Christmas tree decorated with Heineken beer cans that we saw in 2010.


We almost died in the sun when we ate here before, so this time we sat under cover.  We had plenty of shade and enjoyed a pleasant breeze while we ate.  It was only 11:30 and we did not want a big meal.  Let’s face it: nothing says local Caribbean cooking like nachos.  We shared a generous plate of spicy nachos and each had a soda before returning to the ship.  We were not able to escape the lure of the local merchants on the way back.  We were on the ship around 12:45.


After we deposited our hats and bag in the room, we went to the coffee bar where MA got an iced chai.  D, in the meanwhile, was searching for Debbie to arrange prizes for the bridge group.  Mark, from the Trivia team, volunteered to organize the bridge players and supervise their duplicate play every day.  On some cruises, there is a staff member or paid outsider who does this, but not on our cruise.  As a thank-you to Mark, Debbie sent him a free dinner in the Pinnacle Grill, the shipboard steak house.  However, he wanted to award prizes to the bridge players and Debbie agreed that was usually done.  Mark had trouble getting himself organized, so D agreed to run interference for him.  Thus, with only two days left, D was trying to get the prizes for Mark. 


Debbie must have been at lunch because she was not in her office.  No problem.  We returned to our room to read and rest before Trivia and at 3:00 we set out for the OB.  Just as we were heading for the door, the Captain gave his afternoon announcements and was followed by Carlos who proclaimed that Trivia today would be the Battle of the Sexes.


We knew what that meant because he has been threatening to do this for several days.  Since we have won nine of the eighteen games we have played, and incurred the anger and admiration of the other teams, he wanted to split us up.  He had not counted on the other teams protesting, too.  None of the teams wanted to be broken up after almost three weeks of playing together, so gender-based teams were forgotten.  And we won again in triple overtime, defeating our arch nemeses after we tied with 14 points; ironically, we had each graded the others’ paper.


Carlos offered to buy us drinks as a prize since he has nothing to offer which we haven’t already taken home.  We told him to postpone the drinks until later because we, and he, had a meeting to attend at 4:00.  Fermin and other senior staff [Carlos as CD; the Guest Relations manager; and the Shore Excursion manager] met with selected Mariners and group leaders for a feedback session on the cruise.  We were invited, we assume, because we are the face of Cruise Critic on this voyage, but we could have been included simply on the basis of our 4-Star status.


Most people were positive in their comments despite all of the problems which have befallen the Prinsendam.  Most were complimentary in their remarks about the way staff members from waiters and cabin stewards to the senior staff had responded to their concerns and complaints.  There was one person who did nothing but carp, but we decided that some people who have traveled a lot are still not good travelers.  In fact, this particular grouch said that he would have canceled his next HAL cruise if he had not already paid for it.


Fermin remained calm and apologetic; no one is more upset about the problems than he is [Do you remember the falling ceiling?].  He assured the group that their concerns as well as the ones garnered from the end-of-cruise surveys will be forwarded to the Seattle office.  He also said that they were negotiating with Seattle about some sort of compensation for the passengers.  While we won’t turn it down, we certainly don’t think compensation is necessary.


Following the meeting, D went in search of the elusive Debbie while MA went for another iced chai.  Debbie was in her office and was most cooperative especially after D gave her another dozen Cruise Critic pens.  He left with a box filled with travel mugs, golf balls and Prinsendam pins.  Carlos wasn’t kidding – the cupboard is bare.  D did manage to snag the last two HAL neckties, leftovers from a Grand Cruise.  He kept one and left the other in the box for Mark.  After meeting MA in the Explorers’ Lounge, he delivered the box to Mary.  We read and wrote until it was time for dinner.


Once again, we shared our table in the OB with CC friends who had gone on tour with us.  Tonight, Ron and Walt sat with us when they came from dinner.  As we talked, Jim and Pam from Scotland walked in but could not stop to chat as they were late to dinner; when they are not late, they sit with us, too.  We have enjoyed the company of both couples and they have been instrumental in making this a successful cruise. 


We passed up the opportunity to witness the chocolate extravaganza tonight.  It was almost 10 o’clock when we left the MDR after talking with Peter and Manoot.  To go see a room full of chocolate, much less eat any of it, was unthinkable.  Besides, we have to be up early tomorrow.


Tomorrow – A sea day


Thursday, December 20 – Final Formalities


It was a bumpy night on the high seas but by morning things were calmer and by 10 o’clock, the seas were once again smooth.  This was especially important today because we had the second [and last] Cruise Critic meeting scheduled.  The seas had been quite rough when we held the first one.


Things were much smoother this time.  The crew has had almost three weeks to pull things together, so the coffee and tea were set up early as were the cookies, fruit skewers and veggies.  Although we got to the Crow’s Nest at 9, we were not the first to arrive.  Slowly but surely our half of the room began to fill.  By the time we started, the area was full; we had more people today than three weeks ago.  There were several couples who were not CC members but we welcomed them so they could learn what it is about.  There also members who came to this meeting who missed the first one.


D began the meeting but turned it over to Captain Gundersen after about 15 seconds.  The captain was very gracious [and brave] to join us.  Like Fermin several weeks ago, he knew he was entering the lion’s den, but he was as cool and affable as always.  The group applauded the efforts by the entire Prinsendam staff but lambasted the folks in the Seattle head office for some of the problems.  Questions, comments and complaints ranged from the condition of the ship at sailaway to the lack of communication about the late embarkation to the mechanical problems with the air handling and plumbing.  The captain was again applauded when he left.


There was little formal business today – the idea was for the attendees to chat and compare experiences after three weeks of cruising.  D did announce that Debbie had been kind enough to donate HAL travel mugs and Prinsendam pins.  However, he added, there were only enough mugs for those members who had attended both meetings.  There was some grumbling from people who had not attended the first meeting, but it was their fault for not coming.  Nonetheless, one did go to the Front Office to complain about not getting the mug.  There’s always one.


Generally, though, the meeting went well and people seemed happy with the cruise overall, despite the bad start.  When asked to show hands if they had had a good time, everyone raised a hand and many applauded.  Even better, many of the people who attended today made a point of stopping by and telling D how well the meetings had gone and to thank him; quite a few commented that this was the biggest CC meeting they had ever attended.


From the CC meeting, we hustled to Trivia.  D stopped on the way to leave a mug outside the door of the lady who later complained and to leave the empty box which had held the mugs in the cabin.  The whole team was present today but our minds wandered a bit.  Barry, as pencil man, opted out of two right answers which would have put us in a four-way tie for first, but we had no idea of the answer on the tie-breaker, so it made no difference.


After everyone else left the OB, Carlos made good on his promise to buy us drinks in lieu of cheap prizes.  MA had her usual vodka but the rest of us got fruity drinks.  Even D drank a pina colada!  Lunch at the “American BBQ” in the MDR was quite unsatisfactory.  Buffets are occasionally good [see the curry and Indonesian buffets earlier], but this one was not.  Where we expected burgers, hot dogs, sausage and chicken, we got chicken, chili, dry ribs and baked potatoes.  And those were the good dishes.  Oh, well, tomorrow we will have lunch in the Pinnacle Grill for our anniversary.


Tonight was the last formal night, a good thing since we have to pack tomorrow.  With the ship already decorated for Christmas, D felt the color of the season was appropriate and wore his red bow tie and cummerbund with his penguin suit.  Alas, MA had nothing in red or green but looked lovely just the same.


Even better, tonight’s dinner featured escargot again and surf-and-turf.  Last time they served surf-and-turf, the seafood was shrimp, but tonight we dined on lobster.  We asked Endang to just get two lobster tails and leave off the steak.  Since tonight was envelope night, it was no problem.


Envelope night is a tradition on cruise ships.  Even though we pay a daily “hotel charge” which goes directly to the staff, we always add a little something for those who have gone over and above what the job calls for.  This year, we have envelopes for Gildus, Ferdie, Marlon [the wine steward], Endang, Banto and our cabin stewards who have been among the best we have ever had.  Shortly after receiving his envelope, Marlon brought MA a glass of white wine and D a ginger ale “from the Beverage Department.”


With all of the traditions and obligations attended to, tomorrow should be almost relaxed.


Tomorrow – The last [sea] day


Monday, December 17, 2012

Friday, December 14, -- The River of Life, part II


A day without a port is usually called a “sea day,” but what if the ship is on a river?  We are still on the Amazon and will be until around midnight, so we will refer to today as a “river day.”  It is like any normal sea day in that almost all we did was eat and play trivia [second again, third day in a row]. 


There was one unusual activity on board – the 2 p.m. conversion of pollywogs to hardbacks.  The pollywog ceremony is performed on all ships crossing the equator; apparently if a ship crosses it twice on the same voyage, the ceremony is conducted on the second crossing.  We first saw this on the Statendam in 2006.


Set around the Lido pool, a mock court judges crew members for high crimes and misdemeanors, all satiric in nature.  There is a prosecutor in a long robe, wig and shorts [ it’s still hot here in the Amazon]; King Neptune and his unnamed wife; and a jury comprised of ship’s officers including the captain and Hotel Manager.


The prisoners are herded onto the Lido and into a cage [or prison] at one end of the pool by other staff members who act as jailers.  They are brought forth by department – housekeeping, bar staff, etc. – for judging.  Traditionally, none of these crew members has crossed the equator prior to this voyage.  The prosecutor, in a fine rolling baritone, details their crimes; the housekeepers, for example, were accused of leaving only three sheets of toilet paper in the stalls; of closing the bathrooms closest to the dining rooms at meal time; and so on.  There is some inconsequential dialogue between Neptune and his queen before each pollywog is required to “Kiss the Fish.” 


Kissing the fish is exactly what it sounds like – each prisoner must kiss some part of a fresh fish, a cod in this case.  Some have to kiss its lips, some its eyes.  Even though everyone is laughing, no one really likes to kiss the fish.  Once they have finished this part of the ritual, they are taken, some dragging their heels and screaming, to tables set up by the pool where they are essentially tarred and feathered with green goop and salad greens. 


The jailers have a good time with this.  Even the usually reserved Ferdie joined in the fun and was especially enthusiastic when the final prisoner was brought to the table; it was Carlos the Cruise Director who has taken part in the ritual as a judge or other character but has never had to kiss the fish.  Well, today he did.  All his years of lying about it and avoiding it came back double as the jailers covered him in all the leftover slime and all of the remaining greens.


After the prisoners are “decorated,” they are judged by the ship’s senior staff including, as mentioned earlier, Captain Gundersen and Fermin.  Thumbs up or thumbs down, the verdicts were applauded by the passengers.  “Thumbs down” meant the pollywogs were thrown into the pool which probably felt good today; “thumbs up” meant they had to bake in the sun covered in slime and greens.  The judges seemed to have as much fun as anyone and it seemed that the Captain was the one really driving the verdicts.


By 3 p.m., the party was over but the crowd lingered to take pictures, especially of the crew who had not had a chance to cool off in the pool.  Even the captain was smiling when he left.


We saw lots of other ships today, mostly container ships heading up river.  We have also seen a number of ships which appear to be transporting liquid natural gas, but we are not sure.  Since we left Parintins, we have seen fewer and fewer cage boats transporting people.  For the most part, the action is west, in the direction of Manaus, the largest city in the province of Amazonia and the provincial capital.


The river is running mostly muddy brown today, but we have seen stripes of blue water which we presume means that we have crossed another tributary and had a mini-meeting of the waters.  When we reach the Atlantic, there will be no magical change in the water color because the Amazon’s discharge can flow as much as 100 miles into the ocean after it passes the mouth of the river.  The Nile may still be the longest river in the world, but the Amazon’s output is a staggering 6000 per cent greater.  To give some idea of how big the river is, consider that there is an island in the Amazon delta bigger than Switzerland.


We will be back in the Atlantic tonight and heading north toward cooler temperatures.  It has not been as hot as we thought it might be, but it was so humid that the temperature did not matter.  We were actually grateful for the rain the other day.  We have a week left before we disembark, but there is still plenty to do.


Tomorrow – Formalities


Saturday, December 15 --  Activities formal and not


Although we have another week aboard the Prinsendam, our vacation is almost over.  At dinner tonight, we found ourselves cataloging the things we have to do when we get home. The intrusion of reality is not a good sign.


Meanwhile, we enjoyed the quiet pace of another sea day, this one actually at sea.  We were second [again] in Trivia, the fourth day in a row.  The highlight of the day was the Mariner Reception and luncheon.  This is the third Mariner luncheon held on this cruise, made necessary by the large number of repeat HAL passengers.  Today’s affair was for the 4-Star Mariners, those with more than 200 sailing days on the line.  We currently have 316 [not counting this trip] and still felt like babies compared to the 500-, 700- and 900-day cruisers; there was even one woman with over 1750 days!


The reception was held at 10:45 in the main showroom.  Cheap champagne, red & white wine, bloody Mary’s and orange juice were provided.  Naturally, D asked for, and received, a Diet Coke.  Award winners were called to the front and had their pictures taken with the Captain and Fermin.  Award winners were being recognized for passing the 200-, 300-, 500- and 700-day milestones.  Our next recognition may come next year when we pass 400 days, but we really don’t care.


The reception was followed by the Mariner luncheon in the MDR.  We ended up at a table for 6, sharing it with a couple from Orlando and one from Madison, Wisconsin.  After lunch, we returned to the room and read before taking the world’s longest nap.

Tonight was the third formal night.  Once again, we wore matching costumes; D wore a blue cummerbund and bow tie to match MA’s blue outfit.  Several people commented on our color coordination.  They will be disappointed next week when D wears red and MA wears black.


After dinner, we checked e-mail and returned to the room to read and write.


Tomorrow – Another sea day


Sunday, December 16 – A short report


Another sea day found us doing as little as possible.  After breakfast in the MDR, we attended a lecture by Peter Alden, who also spoke ten days ago prior to our entering the rain forest.  At the first lecture, Peter spoke about the vanishing indigenous tribes of the rain forest; today he addressed the flora and fauna of the rain forest with slides of what we might or might not have seen.  Among the unseen were the jaguar and anaconda; among the seen were cormorants, herons, caimans and sloths.  He is an engaging speaker and the Roads Scholars [formerly Elderhostel] were lucky to have him as their leader.


Trivia followed Peter’s slide show and we won again to the great dismay of many of the other teams.  We had not won in the previous four sessions, so we don’t understand the animosity.  We may not participate at all tomorrow because of shore excursions – if we are back in time, it will be a coincidence.


We continue to read and nap.   We have each read three books so far and are almost done with the fourth. 

And so it goes.

NOTE to teedup[?] – There are no golf simulators on the Prinsendam or, reportedly, any HAL ship anymore.  There may be Wii applications which are available, but you’ll have to wait until you are aboard to find out.

Tomorrow – Bridgetown, Barbados

Monday, December 17 – Beautiful Barbados

We visited Barbados 18 months ago while on the Prinsendam.  For that trip, we used a company called Glory Tours and were escorted about Barbados by the owner, Sarah.  As further proof that you can’t go home again, we again contacted Sarah and expected to meet her in “the regular place” this morning only to discover that she had a family emergency and sent one of her other drivers.  Kwame was okay, but he was not Sarah and, while we had a good day, we were disappointed nonetheless.


The legend has it that the Portuguese discovered this island and named it for the ficus tree, known as los Barbados because of their beard-like aerial roots.  Bridgetown got its name much later because of the bridges used to span the waters and connect sections of the city.  Many of the bridges have long since disappeared as the wetlands were filled in.  One of the best-known areas was a leper colony located where the current cruise dock now sits.


The only site from our last trip we wished to repeat we wished to revisit was the old Bridgetown Synagogue, Nidhe Israel.  Dating from the mid-1600s, the synagogue was restored first in 1831 and then again in 1983.  Unlike its counterpart in St. Thomas which has a sand floor, Nidhe Israel has a stone tile floor.  The sanctuary is small and dark despite the addition of electric lighting.  The interior is done in dark wood.  Of course, there is a balcony around the sanctuary because men and women were not allowed to worship together; the women had to sit or stand upstairs.  Services are no longer conducted on this site but there is a newer synagogue elsewhere in the area although we did not visit it.


D took plenty of pictures of the interior of the synagogue; last year, the batteries died in the camera and we had no pictures.  Remember, the rule is, “You haven’t been there if you don’t have a picture.”  D also took photos of the adjacent cemetery.  Surprisingly few of the graves had stones atop them, a Jewish custom.  We did not visit the ancient mikvah, ritual bath, which was not open again, or the Nidhe Israel Museum which we visited last year.


On the short drive to the synagogue, Kwame pointed out prominent buildings and landmarks, but we paid little attention to them and were not interested in having photos of them.  Kwame did talk to Sarah about an itinerary for us, so we proceeded to drive the coast from the southwest, where Bridgetown is, to the east and north.


Although we followed the coast as much as possible, we did not see very much of the water.  There is no perimeter coastal road, so most of what we saw consisted of house and stores.  Later in the trip we saw some farm land, sugar mostly with stands of banana trees as well.  Sugar and rum are still important exports and, along with tourism, drive the Barbados economy.


The island consists of eleven parishes.  In explaining Barbados, parish is used two ways.  Like Louisiana, the different local authorities are called parishes instead of counties, so there are eleven counties on this small island.  The other use of parish is religious; because Barbados was taken as part of the British Empire in 1625, it is predominantly Anglican or Church of England.  As a result, each political parish has a parish church, one Anglican church per parish.  Each political parish is identical with the religious one.  Confused yet? 


Nine of the parishes are named after male saints; one is named after St. Lucy; and the last is called Christ Church.  We visited the parish church of St. John.  It was fine old building in what seemed to be an Anglicized Gothic style.  The side walls were braced like many of the churches in Europe but without flying buttresses and the roof line was low and “toothed” so it looked more like a castle.  The interior was plain but serene.  The whole of the church, inside and out, benefitted from a constant breeze so neither the grounds not the interior of the church was uncomfortable.


The church property was located high enough and close enough to the ocean to afford spectacular views both north and south with the beach and ocean clearly visible seemingly forever.  It was magnificent.  Of course, there were vendors in the parking lot to take advantage of both the HAL and Celebrity cruisers on tours, but they were respectful of their location and did not badger visitors.  After walking away from on display, MA changed her mind and purchased a necklace.


We stopped at the Andromeda Botanic Gardens, a small display of local trees, shrubs and flowers.  Two paths were available and we took the one which was less strenuous.  There were still several steep spots going both up and down, but we enjoyed seeing the plants and flowers.  We were disappointed that there were not more blooms but were told later that the blooming season is still three months away. 


We followed a map which explained which plants we were seeing in each section of the garden.  There was also a brook running through the garden adding to the peaceful tone of the garden.  Although we did not take advantage of them, there were chairs and benched scattered throughout the property.  The botanic garden was not free, but we felt it was well worth the visit.


By this time, it was almost 12:30 and we were ready for lunch.  Just five minutes from Andromeda was the Atlantis Hotel complex where Kwame had made a reservation.  It was not necessary as the restaurant was almost deserted.  Still, our reservation ensured we had a table overlooking the ocean.  There was a gentle breeze throughout our meal and we could have stayed forever.  MA and Kwame had flying fish and D had barracuda.  We asked the waitress what preparation she recommended and she said that the broiled fish was healthier but the fried fish was tastier.  We all chose the fried fish.  The meal included something new to us, breadfruit chips.  Looking much like pineapple wedges, the breadfruit had been sliced thick, fried and them coated with spices that reminded us of Old Bay seasoning. 


During the day, we were able to see some of the local wildlife, sort of.  We saw several mongooses [mongeese?] scampering across the road and Kwame told us that the mongoose had been imported to eliminate Barbados’s rat population.  Whoever made that decision did not realize that the mongoose is a daytime creature and the rats are nocturnal; the rat problem persists, but the mongoose has eradicated the island’s snakes, a fair tradeoff.


We continued driving after lunch and stopped for a few minutes near the ship to look for a box for MA’s collection.  Although we saw some beautiful handmade boxes in a craftsman’s studio, there were too large [and too expensive].  The woodworker pointed us to a tchotchke shop in the same center where we found a box/basket made of Guyanan twine woven in Barbados.


We arrived back on the ship around 3 p.m. in plenty of time for trivia.  We were soaked from walking back to the ship and from the broken a/c in our Lincoln Town Car taxi.  We changed quickly into dry clothes and went to the OB.  We may have been the only full team present today and managed to win again [8 for 17 so far].  Carlos is at a loss over what kind of prizes to give us – he says we have won everything he has to offer and have, actually, gone without prizes twice because we don’t want more pins.


We read and rested; talked with CC companions during the cocktail hour; had dinner and came home where MA was asleep long before this chapter was completed.


Tomorrow – another sea day

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wednesday, December 12 – Passing time in Parintins


Parintins, Brazil, is a town of about 100,000 inhabitants.  During three days in June, however, it swells to more than 300,000 as people from all over the Amazon find their way here for the annual Boi Bumba festival.  Many have traveled for days in cage boats or other water craft and many sleep in their hammocks while in Parintins; it is cheaper than renting a hotel room. 


The Boi Bumba is also performed for cruise ship passengers who are tendered into town and schlepped to the performance arena.  The real festival is so popular that a 30,000 seat arena was built for it.  That would be like Baltimore building a 250,000 seat venue capable of seating one-third of its population.


The Boi Bumba is not really ancient Amazon folklore.  It was completely manufactured as an entertainment but has evolved over the years.  The basic story is so farcical that it could be a comic opera.  It involves a man, his wife, a prize bull and a feud.  As the festival has grown, though, the story has been elaborated upon so that now there are more local and folkloric references than in the original.



The feud in the Boi Bumba is between the family of the man and his wife and the owner of the bull.  At the festival in June, two teams, the Red and the Blue, compete to see which can stage the best performance; which has the best music; which has the best costumes; and which has the most polite audience.  If the supporters of the Blue are rude during the Red performance, the Blue team is penalized.  Each year, a winner is declared and only that team’s members can perform until the next competition.  This year, the Red team won.  The city is rabid in its support for the teams; Coca-Cola is sold in red and blue cans during the festival but only in the color of the winner for the rest of the year.  There may be some blue advertisements still visible, but there are no blue cans available.


D bought tickets online months ago.  The Boi Bumba was touted as the activity in Parintins.  However, when we heard repeated warnings by Carlos about the steep path from the tenders to the city – combined with reports that one went from the tender to a cage boat before getting on the pier, we decided to abandon our plans and stay on board.  A long steep walk up and down a boat ramp did not appeal to us after MA’s recent misfortunes. 


It was too late to get a refund on the tickets, of course, and the only people to talk to about a refund were on shore and not immediately available.  To talk to them would have involved a 30-minute tender ride in each direction, a round trip in excess of an hour.  D looked for other CC members who might be interested but was not successful.  However, we did overhear another couple as we read in the Explorer’s Lounge; they had bought tickets to the wrong shore excursion and would love to see the Boi Bumba.  They offered to pay us the difference between what they had already paid and what the show tickets cost.  If they are able to get a refund, they say they will pay full price.  We don’t really expect to see any money, but we’ll see what happens.


Otherwise, it was like a sea day.  We read, ate lunch in the MDR and rested/wrote before Trivia.  Today’s competition started at 4 p.m. and we didn’t know how many people would show up.  We thought the Boi Bumba would end at 3:15, but the long tender ride and large crowd could have slowed some people down.  In the end, we had our regular team of six but only enough answers for second place.  We thanked the winning team for taking the target off of us.


Final note  -- Returning from Trivia, we found an envelope of cash which had been shoved under the door.  Inside was $50 from the folks who took our Boi Bumba tickets.


Tomorrow – Alter de Chao


Thursday, December 13 – Our last Brazilian port


When we were on the cage boat in Santarem, Paulo described Alter de Chao as the Caribbean of the Amazon.  It is also his adopted home town.


After so many river stops with steep inclines because of the low water level, MA opted to stay on board today and catch up on her rest.  D went ashore around 10 a.m.  The tender ride was uneventful and the tender pulled up to a stable dock which led to a white sand beach.  The hard part was getting up the shallow slope in the shifting sand.  It was slow going for everyone. 


The sand led to wooden stairs and ultimately to an uneven boardwalk.  At the top of the stairs were local merchants selling tourist tchotchkes – t-shirts, stuffed piranha, blow pipes, jewelry, etc.  As if the merchants did not pose enough of an obstacle, the boardwalk was very difficult to walk on.  Several people stumbled, but none fell, while D was watching.


The boardwalk led to a street which went directly to the town square.  There were Christmas decorations in the square along with benches, flowering bushes and pink and grey dolphins [one each] for kids to climb on.  The Town church faced the square as did several cafes and some tourist-oriented clothing stores.


The original church was constructed between 1876 and 1896.  Renovations were completed in 2010.  The church as a yellow stucco exterior and yellow plaster walls inside. A portion of the original brickwork was left visible over the altar.  The church overlooks not only the town square but also the inlet created during the dry season.


Sand bars are easily visible in the harbor.  There are cabanas on the spit of land which has more of the white sand on either side.  The whole are is probably submerged during the wet season.  Alter de Chao is on the smaller Tapajos River, not the Amazon, so the seasonal flooding may not be as severe as in the mighty Amazon.


Several references have appeared here to “the meeting of the waters.”  As with the dolphin swimming, our preconception was nothing like the reality.  We pictured rushing waters meeting head-on the way the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans do at the tips of South America and Africa.  In fact, the meeting of the waters is peaceful.


When the Amazon and Tapajos Rivers meet [or the Amazon and Rio Negro is Manaus], their waters travel side by side.  The Amazon is a dirty, chocolate brown from all of the silt it carries and the others are relatively clean and blue.  What one sees at the meeting of the waters is the two rivers clearly visible as two stripes in the combined river, one brown stripe and one blue.  It may take several miles before the blue is merged into the brown as it flows eastward toward the ocean.


The separation of the waters is attributable to several factors, all working together.  The rivers have different temperatures; the specific gravity of the rivers is different because of the silt content; and the rivers are traveling at different speeds.  Once all of these factors are equalized, the “meeting” ends and the Amazon proceeds on its way.


Because the river is so shallow now, the Prinsendam had to anchor in midstream for fear of becoming grounded.  In fact, the tender D rode back to the ship after he wandered through the town struck the bottom with its propeller as it back away from the dock.


D returned to the cabin just at noon.  Before we went to lunch, he gave her a t-shirt he had bought on shore.  It is almost too pretty to wear but we have no place to display it.  While we ate on the Lido, the kitchen crew was setting up a display of tropical fruits including bananas, mangoes and rambutan [sp?], one of Caiden’s favorites.


Trivia was tragic today – we came in second again, the first time we have lost twice in a row.  Again, we coulda/shoulda but didn’t.  Carlos still owes us a prize from Tuesday and we will remind him tomorrow.


Tomorrow – a river day